Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

Bechdel:  0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story: 2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 2 points

And here we come to what I think is perhaps one of the greatest picture books of all time. I have written papers about this book, so when I say I could rhapsodise for it for pages and pages, believe me.

Alas, like many totally amazing classic books, it still falls into the “white boys” category. No diversity, no named female characters, just “his mother”. And once you hold a feminist lense up to it, it is definitely falling into some pretty standard gender roles (the male goes off on big adventurous adventures; the female stays home nurturing, providing food to the wayward adventurer when he returns).

But this book, you guys. There are so many things I love about it.

As a parent I love the message that no matter how naughty my little ratbag is, and no matter how mad I get at him, I still love him “most of all”. One of the things C and I talk about a lot is how you can love someone even when you’re angry with them, and how an extension of that is being careful about the words you use in anger and how you should still try to never say things you don’t mean.

“Do you really want me to go away?”
“No, mommy.”
“Then you shouldn’t say it when you’re angry, right?”

It’s a really difficult thing to learn, and one I had to learn as an adult, really. But he’s slowly figuring it out, and I feel like in a lot of ways, this book supports that idea. That when you love someone you deal with every single day, it is easy for stuff to go wrong, for you to fight or get on each other’s nerves, and that how you deal with that is important. This book says that even when you get that wrong, that doesn’t mean the love isn’t still there. And when you’re a little person, still learning that, it’s really important.

And then there’s the whole Wild aspect. The journey out to madness and the return to hearth. I… seriously, I could go all kinds of academic on this. I’m going to refrain, because this isn’t really the place for it. Instead I will simply say that Sendak was a fucking genius.

The pictures are gorgeous, his use of illustrative space and textual space is genius. There are one or two easter eggs I only discovered because I read way too many academic papers on it when I was doing my MA (Hint: keep an eye on the moon… how long is Max really gone for?). And despite being structurally amazing, it is a totally great story. There is good reason this book is so beloved.

I have been reading Where the Wild Things Are to C since before he was born, and we both love it. Reading it has become almost a ritual – I barely have to look at the text, I can pretty much recite it. So when I asked C what he thought of it he looked at me like I was crazy. I asked him his favourite part, and he said, “The rumpus, and his mommy left him food”.

Which frankly, sums it up for me. 😉

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